Path to Hold Still

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I premiered Hold Still on Friday at UMW's Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium in the ITCC's Digital Auditorium, and it got a really good response! A lot of the students and faculty involved in the poster sessions that happened right before stuck around, which meant I had a pretty strong science contingent in the audience. Andy Rush of DTLT did a great video of it, which you can see here:

I'll do a post in a bit about the full setup of the piece, but I wanted to provide some context for the lack of posts between the start of this independent study and now.

About a month and a half ago, I was still struggling to figure out what I wanted the subject of the piece to be. Having been to a number of electroacoustic festivals, I've seen a lot of pieces that invoked some really interesting technology without surrounding the tech with a piece that could give it staying power. While this is a genre that hungers for innovation, and these types of pieces are important experiments, it made me heavily aware that the wrong piece could turn my paper controller concept into a gimmick rather than a strength.

The more I experimented with sounds and Max/MSP, the more I realized that the best thing to do for the piece would be to make it about drawing. While deliberating, I happened upon a spoken word video on YouTube that really spoke to me. One video became another, and another, and before I knew it I'd binge-watched nearly everything the Button Poetry channel had to offer.

So from that, I knew I needed to write something personal, and it needed to be mostly dialogue. I initially wanted to piece together individual words from spoken word recordings like a ransom letter, because I thought it would give me a good balance of openness and camouflage. I had an idea of where I wanted the words to go, but just me saying them? That seemed way too direct. Then, mid-spoken-word-binge, I landed on poet Sarah Kay's TED Talk, and after it, I knew I needed to use my own voice. Her talk is about helping high school students use spoken word poetry to discover their voices, and that using yours is important, especially when you are afraid to do so. Even if I wasn't 100% confident that everyone would accept the poem I was about to write, that was what pushed me to do it: I have something to say.

I wrote up the main voice of the poem in a night, and did the secondary voices the next week. The whole time, I was really afraid of what I was doing, because a lot of electroacoustic music is about obscurity and collage. I'd never heard something like this, where whole sections of a voice are played back with very few changes; plus, a lot of the subject matter turned out to be very personal, and opening up your heart to a room full of strangers is daunting.

The first time I played the tape part back for Mark, I was nearly vibrating with anxiety. Alongside running on very little sleep, I had the obvious/normal fear that he'd reject this out-of-genre poem. Halfway through listening, he said "this is incredible," and my fears disappeared. He helped assure me that the piece is stronger because of how different and raw it is; it's vulnerable, it's personal, it's necessary. It's not just some throwaway nostalgic poem scrawled on looseleaf.

I didn't write this post to try and glorify the process of writing Hold Still; I wanted to share the experience of confusion and confidence. I can't be the only one who's considered backing down from performing something this open in front of a crowd, for fear that no one would want to hear it. After the climax of the piece, after its darkest point, I write "there is no voice but your own" somewhere on the paper controller, because that's what writing this piece has meant to me. You have a voice, it is different from mine, and I want to hear what you have to say. Please don't hide.

Written by Becky on Wednesday April 29, 2015

Permalink - Category: composition - Tag: Hold Still

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